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Middle East Peace Process

4. Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): If he will make a statement on the talks held in London on 4 May on the middle east peace process. [40493]

6. Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West): If he will make a statement on the middle east peace process. [40495]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): The UK was pleased to host the peace process meetings held in London last week. I met the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, on the eve of those talks, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I repeatedly met Madeleine Albright and the two parties to the talks over the two days of meetings.

Throughout those meetings we urged on both parties our view that the American proposals represent the best chance of breaking the deadlock. We welcomed President Arafat's acceptance of them. We regret that Prime Minister Netanyahu was unable to accept the American package, but we hope that further progress can be made when he meets Madeleine Albright tomorrow in Washington.

We fully recognise the importance of security to the Israeli people, but we also believe that their security will be best served by a just and fair peace settlement.

Ms Morgan: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the major problems is the resistance and inflexibility of Mr. Netanyahu and the Israeli Government regarding the peace talks that have been proposed? Will he continue to work with the US Government to encourage Mr. Netanyahu and the Israeli Government to accept those proposals?

Mr. Cook: We will maintain very close contacts with the United States and I, in particular, will maintain close contact with Madeleine Albright. I pay tribute to her strong, firm leadership of the talks last week.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he would like to go to final stages talks. The United States' strategy offered him the opportunity to do so, but those talks can commence only when we resolve the interim issues, and it is a matter of regret that he has been unable to accept what we regard as a fair and reasonable offer to settle interim issues so that we can get on with the final stages talks.

Mr. Butterfill: Will the Foreign Secretary join me in congratulating The Times on publishing on Saturday probably the most balanced and detailed analysis of the problems in the peace process? Will he confirm that there are genuine difficulties relating, for example, to giving up the early warning systems on the Sumerian heights, to the flight path into Tel Aviv airport and to the aquifers that supply Jerusalem, but that genuine progress was made in narrowing the gap between the parties in the discussions held in London? Does he share my optimism that all those problems can be resolved with good will on both sides?

Mr. Cook: I must confess that that article in The Times did not catch my eye on Saturday. Of course there are genuine problems, and nobody should take lightly Israel's

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important concerns about security, but those issues are much more likely to be resolved in the context of progress in the peace process.

In response to the hon. Gentleman's points about outstanding issues, I can tell him that Britain and Europe stand willing to help to resolve the issues relating to economic progress in Gaza, particularly the airport, the industrial park and the sea port. One of the great tragedies of the peace process is that it has been accompanied by a drop of one third in Palestinians' standard of living. It is vital that we restore to the ordinary families of Gaza a belief that the peace process will bring progress to them too.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale): I do not share the optimism that has been voiced. Does my right hon. Friend agree that all the evidence seems to show that Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Denktash have one feature in common: neither has any intention of reaching a peace settlement?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend expresses a point of view. It is important for both Europe and the United States that we continue to take at their word the Government of Israel when they say that they wish to restore the peace process. After all, Mr. Netanyahu was elected on a commitment not to end the peace process but to achieve peace with security. There will be no security without peace and no peace unless we manage to get the peace process back on track.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Israeli Government cite security concerns as their reason for refusing to withdraw from territory on the west bank. What action have the United Kingdom Government taken to reinforce the ability of the Palestinians to deal with terrorist activity emanating from their territory in association, liaison and co-operation with the Government of the state of Israel?

Mr. Cook: I am delighted to tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that Europe and Britain have been at the forefront of working with the Palestine National Authority to enhance its capacity to deal with security. That is why when I was in Gaza we announced a permanent joint security committee, which is being supported by a British expert who has real expertise in security and intelligence matters. We are providing practical and real help to enable the Palestine National Authority to get on top of the security problem. I regret that the Government of Israel declined our invitation to join that committee. I hope that they will reconsider their decision in the future.

Lisbon Expo

5. Mrs. Helen Brinton (Peterborough): What plans he has to visit the Lisbon Expo; and if he will make a statement. [40494]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Derek Fatchett): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary very much hopes to visit Expo 98 in Lisbon and the United Kingdom pavilion. The Expo offers us an important opportunity to highlight British achievements in ocean technology, research and

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management. The United Kingdom pavilion will project an innovative and creative Britain in a lively and entertaining way. I am pleased to announce that I shall visit the United Kingdom pavilion on Thursday this week, ahead of the opening of Expo 98.

Mrs. Brinton: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Will he ensure that, at the Lisbon Expo, the British Council encourages as many Portuguese students as possible to study at universities in this country? Is he aware that a new university is to open this year in my constituency, and we would very much welcome them?

Mr. Fatchett: The British Council will play an important role in the Expo and in Britain's display there. The British Council is an extremely important asset to Britain, not just in Portugal but in other parts of the world, as it sells British higher education, the English language and British culture in the roundest possible sense. I am sure that the university in Peterborough will be a tremendous success.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Portugal is our oldest ally and a good friend--a relationship that will no doubt be reinforced by the excellent British contribution at the Lisbon Expo? That relationship subsisted during the Salazar regime. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that demonstrates that friendship between nations is best exemplified by trade and relationships between peoples rather than by some cant about an ethical foreign policy?

Mr. Fatchett: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's opening comments. There is no doubt that Portugal and the United Kingdom are long-standing allies--indeed, Portugal is our longest-standing ally in Europe. Relationships depend upon much more than trade. In the case of Portugal, we have a range of shared democratic values that are crucial to the relationship between our two countries.

Middle East Peace Process

7. Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): What consultations he has held with (a) Israel, (b) the Palestine National Authority and (c) Arab states concerning securing peace in the middle east. [40496]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Derek Fatchett): The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister met both the Israeli Prime Minister and President Arafat last week in London.

Mrs. Ellman: Does my hon. Friend welcome Israel's commitment to implementing United Nations Security Council resolution 425, which calls for Israel's withdrawal from the occupied areas of Lebanon? Does he agree that, in order to make that meaningful, both Syria and Lebanon must ensure that the civilians on Israel's northern borders do not suffer further attacks?

Mr. Fatchett: The Israeli Government have offered to accept conditionally United Nations Security Council resolution 425, which is unconditional in demanding Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon. My hon. Friend's point is that we must have progress on the

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Syrian-Lebanese track, and it is important that we have a comprehensive peace settlement covering the whole region. That is why she is right to stress the need to build security in south Lebanon through a comprehensive agreement with both Syria and Lebanon.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Does the Minister accept that one of the problems of bringing about peace in the middle east is the fact that not one responsible Arab leader trusts the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Netanyahu? Would not Mr. Netanyahu contribute towards the peace if he stopped building those odious settlements on Palestinian land, thus depriving Palestinians of their land and the ability to make a living and to live in peace?

Mr. Fatchett: We have condemned the building of settlements and any action that pre-empts the final status negotiations. The hon. Gentleman probably does his cause no good by using such strong and intemperate language. We do not choose our negotiating partners, but we must ensure that those negotiations are a success. We are looking for progress on the middle east peace process. That is in the interests of Palestinian, Israeli, Syrian and Lebanese alike, and we shall continue to work towards that just objective.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): Does the Minister agree that, as the Prime Minister said, although the talks last week produced no breakthrough, they did not break down? Does he further agree that neither in Oslo nor later in Hebron in 1997 were any percentages detailed for territorial redeployment? That was to be implemented by Israel; it was not to be an issue for discussion with the Palestinians.

Mr. Fatchett: As the hon. Gentleman knows intimately, the value of continuing discussion is that it can often lead to a successful outcome in negotiations. We are seeing that in Northern Ireland, and I hope that we shall also see it in the middle east. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister helped to keep those talks going. If we can take the talks on to Washington successfully, that will be in the interests of everyone in the region.

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